Dress Code is an independent film that is full of potential and talent. The opening scenes effectively reel you in by conjuring the magic of classic Italian mob movies. *Spoiler Alert* Someone gets whacked! Subsequent scenes give you charming Italians chopping it up. Later scenes deliver enough problemi famigliari to make the Jersey Shore crew look like The Brady Bunch. The film’s obvious commitment to Italian mafia folklore is a shining aspect of Dress Code. However, by the end of the movie you realize that the film’s true intention is to break away from gangster movie cliches and offer something more complex.
The story of Dress Code revolves around the tumultuous life of Bobby Russo (Nicholas Giordano, Gerard Garilli) and his (crime) family. The film introduces young Bobby and his friend “C-Low” (Aden Dixon, Kevin Williamson) as an artifice to let us know that Bobby is a little bit different. Successive scenes portray young Bobby’s life as mostly normative, but riddled with turmoil. This is an effective strategy by the film’s director, Joseph Pupello, because it immediately makes Bobby and his story relatable. The average American family, whether it’s black, white, or Asian, is going through it on a day-to-day basis in some way or another just like him: Domineering fathers that just don’t understand. Loving mothers suffering through subservient misery and teenage kids simply trying to endure the pressure of other people’s judgment. Dress Code does not shy away from any of that and it’s boldly refreshing.
Another thing that's refreshing about the film is its commitment to camera work. Dress Code relies heavily on scene composition to communicate the tension of its script and utilizes its lenses well. The movie, generally, shows you what’s happening rather than telling you and that's fantastic. One of the things I learned in a prep school film class was that a good movie is equally (if not more) effective silent as it is audible. Dress Code accomplishes this in nearly every scene. Scene framing and shot blocking throughout the film are excellent and create a sense of viewer intimacy that is endearing.
The elephant in the room, however, is the acting. It’s a bit of a distraction at times because much of the cast feels a bit green. There are actually moments when the film feels like it would be a better stage play because of how stiffly the scenes are set and how emotive some of the actors are. I have to be clear though and say: None of that precludes you from enjoying the film! However, it’s a pass you have to be willing to give to fully appreciate it.
That said, there are some really good performances in Dress Code. Frank Osso stands out as “Uncle” Rocco. His solid and steady performance throughout the film provides a nice grounding effect for the rest of the cast and really drives the movie. He’s particularly good in the film’s third act. Alex Di Trolio delivers an expressive and passionate performance as Bobby’s mother, Joyce. The most earnest performance comes from Gerard Garilli. The script asks a lot from Garilli. He’s in nearly every scene after the first act and has to be a lot of things at once. (Garilli actually won Best Actor at the Oniros Film Awards for this performance.) Additionally, he’s credited as the executive producer of the film. (You have to respect a guy that puts his money where his mouth is!) Garilli’s exceptional effort is a testament to the cast and crew’s belief that this film is something special.
Overall, Dress Code feels like a good faith effort to capture the magic of movies like Goodfellas (1990) and The Godfather (1972). And in an era where indulging in ethnic pride seems to be politically (and financially) dangerous, Dress Code makes revelling in immigrant Italian Americana feel appropriately nostalgic. (I dare you to watch the film's shots of homemade penne alla vodka and tell me different!) Jokes aside, Dress Code is a technically strong movie. Moreover, it's the kind of movie that is truly inspiring. There’s no Tom Cruise or big budget studio to hype it. Everybody involved with the project is giving blue-collar effort to get it to the masses. And that’s something I think we can all get behind.
Dress Code is currently on the film festival circuit.